Category Archives: Assignment 3 Self portrait

Assignment three (self assessment)

Putting yourself in the picture


Demonstration of technical and visual skills

For all my images I used a 50mm prime lens; a tripod and a remote control shutter release. I initially tried my 55-210mm telephoto lens but the maximum f1.8 aperture of  the fixed lens was more appropriate in domestic lighting. However, I found that in my first set of images f1.8 gave a too narrow depth of field and resulted in the wooden box being blurred at the back of the image, and some of the front items as well. I subsequently reshot the images, increasing to f2 or more in some images; and still more than my zoom lens offered. My final images  do have a very narrow depth of field; for instance, in the ‘housework’ box I like the way that the small writing on the product at the back is out of focus and therefore not a ‘subject’ in itself.

I considered both portrait and landscape orientation for this series but to use portrait the boxes were more appropriately positioned ‘tall’ and I felt that the objects were better displayed horizontally. I therefore decided on a landscape orientation and the boxes were appropriately positioned.

Visually, I wanted all the images to show the boxes in the same position in the frame. So, my camera was placed on a tripod and the box remained in position throughout the shoot. Only the objects inside the box were moved and replaced. This ensured a static positioning of the box in all the images. I found it more difficult than I thought to position the box in the frame so that the margins were equal  but am pleased with the positioning overall. I used a studio light rather than rely on tungsten domestic light and felt that this worked well but it did produce some unwelcome highlights so I diffused the light with some semi opaque fabric. I used the remote control so that I could move away from the camera to avoid my refection being in some of the objects (wine glasses). 

The black backdrop

When I reviewed the images I noticed that the colour of the wooden box varied slightly in one image particularly, and I wasn’t sure why when all the circumstances had been the same throughout.  I corrected this post production to give a uniform series.

Quality of outcome

I feel that I have successfully shown a viewer an insight into my life in a self- absented portrait series. I feel that the images are consistent and coherent with all images being similar, both in arrangement and colour. The narrative is in the form of diary extracts to add meaning to the images and provides the diary context of the brief.

Demonstration of creativity

Through the use of wooden boxes to contain specific items I feel that I have represented, through images, the way that I feel in control of my life when all my own ‘boxes’ are full.

I am finding it useful to keep a record of ideas that I have prior to deciding on a final theme for the assignment. Thinking further around different ideas helps to inform my final choice and provides ideas that I may be able to develop later in the course. For this self portrait series I created the settings for all the images which, only a few months ago, seemed out of my comfort zone. I also used studio lighting, again something that I thought I wouldn’t be doing for a while yet. Creatively, I feel that I have taken a risk this time. I like the images that I have produced but obviously I have some reservation until I build up more confidence.


My images were taken in the context of showing a viewer something about me and my personality. By displaying my own objects you can get an idea of my tastes and lifestyle. By showing my ‘boxes’ a viewer can identify how I spend my time and what is important to me. I feel that this works as a self absented portrait series and together with my diary extracts says much about me.


Assignment three (submission)

My life in boxes

Anyone who knows me knows about my ‘boxes’. As long as I can remember my life has been split into compartments that represent the things that are important to me. So, for instance, I have a ‘family’ box which I only consider to be ‘full’ if I have been seeing friends and relatives regularly. I also have a ‘gym’ box which is only full if I have done cardio twice a week and been for a swim; and a ‘reading’ pot that is full when I have indulged my love of literature. On those occasions that all my boxes are full, I feel at my best. Someone I know had a similar life view to me, but their ‘boxes’ were ‘guitar strings’, and for his life to be in harmony, all his metaphorical guitar strings had to be properly tuned.

I am very interested in how society puts people into neat ‘boxes’ depending on their characteristics, interests and appearance. Nikki S Lee and her work  Projects shows how she integrates with a particular sub culture by adopting their appearance, gestures, mannerisms and language, in order to ‘fit in’.  Endia Beale essentially asks which box her subjects fit into when they present for interview; do they fit the corporate box or not?. My research into these two practitioners encouraged me to consider my own personal ‘boxes’  and how someone could gain an insight into my life and personality through them.

I was further encouraged by Nigel Shafron’s use of everyday items (in his series, Washing-up) and how they can provide a self absented portrait, and I decided to show my own portrait using similar ordinary objects. My final choice of objects is significant. My choice of novels for instance shows my interest in classic literature, my choice of photograph frames perhaps shows a plain, rather than an ornate taste, my choice of trainers perhaps puts me in a particular economic bracket and so on. All these objects come together to form an impression of my personality.

This project is an attempt to articulate visually what is a light-hearted, but long-standing analogy of my approach to life … and together with a diary inspired narrative, I feel puts me in the picture.

My life in boxes

Final assessment presentation

I am aware that by including narrative in the assignment it has been necessary to consider the actual physical presentation of my assignment for future assessment. By submitting the images only, as I have done previously, the narrative would be omitted, so, I am considering:

  • submitting either, a physical diary, in keeping with the brief, with images printed and displayed on one page and handwritten narrative on the opposite side,
  • or I could take photographs of written diary pages (like Anna Fox in her Cockroach Diaries), and submit the narrative photographs as additional images.


Contact Sheets

Contact sheets Assignment three (annotated)


Assignment three (six initial ideas and inspiration)

Putting yourself in the picture – self portrait

I always have a quick look forward to the next assignment before starting the relevant course exercises and research. This is so that I can have an ‘end’ in sight to help me to shape my learning and help me think around the assignment as I learn from the course. I can therefore let myself get sidetracked, in a structured way, as I come across things that I feel could inspire the assignment.

As part of his feedback from my last assignment my tutor commented that he ‘liked the way that I had lots of ideas and thought through them, without going too far’ if they were impossible to turn into images. I have taken this approach again for assignment three.

Here are some of the ideas that I have noted as potentially inspiring to inform my work on assignment three.

Idea one

The very personal (inspired by Graham MacIndoe)

While thinking around assignment three on self portraits, I read an article in the British Journal of Photography (January 2017, page 70) about Graham MacIndoe and his series Coming Clean. MacIndoe, a portrait photographer from Scotland, developed a ten year heroin addiction, which saw him spending four months in prison. However, he turned his life around, published two books, got taken on by a gallery and became professor at a prestigious university in New York City.

His graphic work Coming Clean  shows his experience of living with a heroin addiction and shows the viewer the realities of such a life. The series shows the grim unkempt environment, the injections, basic facilities, with an unhealthy colour tint to compliment the unhealthy environment. I think this is a brave series. It can be hard to reveal personal things about yourself, particularly unattractive things, and revealing this subject in this way must have required courage and a determination to show real life in the midst of such an addiction.

This series did make me think of documenting a period of my life where I suffered with Emetophobia, and how I avoided all situations that could potentially make me feel, or be, sick. There is an honesty that MacIndoe demonstrates, and a willingness to show himself ‘warts and all’, no attempt at flattery, just as it is; no apology. I admire this, it shows an acceptance and I will bear this in mind for future. I prepared one of my ‘project proposal forms’ for Emetophobia and may come back to this in order to highlight this much hidden phobia. Below is a test image that I took showing how I used to be so afraid if anyone was ill in the bathroom.

I came across this series This is what my OCD looks like  and felt that there were similarities between OCD and Emetophobia and I would be quite interested to articulate my fear of sickness in this way at some point. However, I rejected it here at this stage as I felt that my approach would need to be too similar to my approach to assignment two (Illiteracy) with its  domestic scenes. I wanted to do something quite different this time.

Interview with Graham MacIndoe


Idea two 

Presentation ideas, double exposures and long exposures

These two images caught my attention. For, now, all I know is that I like how they look but I cannot see a clear influence to my assignment as yet.

The image below has made me think of taking images with a background that indicates something about my personality; rows of bookshelves, a yoga studio, etc. I could add to this an image of myself (or part of myself) ‘acting’ out that particular aspect of my personality and then combine the images. I may come back to this as a way of presenting images in the future.

The second image has appealed to me partly because I have just taken images (in my extra curricular evening class) with light and long exposures, but mainly I like the way that the face is covered but somehow does not detract from the subject. It actually makes me want to peer in and take a closer look.


Idea three 

Portrait without a face (inspired by Hayley Leonard)

Hayley Leonard, Nan’s Hands, 2004

Inspired by Leonard’s image above, I keep returning to this idea of showing a person’s character without showing their face. I am thinking of documenting the main parts of my life using me as a subject but not including my face; and probably only showing my hands. I took these two images of my husband a while ago and was pleased with how they say something about him without showing what he looks like.

Image 1image 2


Idea four

Being an identical twin (inspired by Keith Greenough)

I have just researched Keith Greenough’s Iron Man series where he has taken 30 images of himself after competing in running, cycling and swimming events and have understood that this is a form of autobiographical portraiture where he tells us about himself, using himself as the subject. Greenough’s sport is clearly how he defines himself and is central to his life.

Going forward, for my assignment, I can relate to this autobiographical style of portrait and exploration of identity. I thought about myself and tried to identify the ONE thing that defines me the most and that I could portray through images. The first thing that I thought of was being a twin. I have an identical twin sister and she is a presence in my life that I cannot explain. I know what she thinks, I know what she likes, I know what her opinion would be, I actually know what it is like to be her and she knows what it is like to be me. I want to photograph this, if not now, then at some point in the future.

Idea five

Childlessness (inspired by Elina Brotherus)

Having just researched Elina Brotherus and her series Annonciation where she autobiographically examines her long journey through infertility treatment I can empathise with her distress but have to acknowledge that regarding children I am as far removed from her situation as it can get. I am also childless but it is most definitely a voluntary state and not an involuntary one like hers. Society generally doesn’t feel that empathetic towards  voluntarily childless couples as the assumption is that you will have a family and you are selfish if you don’t, and as such, me and my husband are ‘other’ than the norm.

I am thinking of voluntarily childlessness as a possible subject for assignment three but am struggling with the practicalities and ideas surrounding the images. Perhaps I could be shown as disinterested in the presence of a new baby or preferring to walk alone in the park when other mums are pushing swings. Food for thought but (a) I don’t have access to any new babies and (b) photographing children in the park could get me in some trouble with parents. An interesting thought though and quite a ‘taboo’ subject as no one readily admits to being indifferent towards children.


 Idea six

Sub cultures, categories and still life (inspired by Nikki S Lee, Endia Beale and Nigel Shafran)

I am very interested in how society puts people into neat ‘boxes’  depending on their characteristics and appearance. Nikki S Lee and her work Projects shows how she integrates with a particular sub culture by adopting their appearance, gestures, mannerisms and language, in order to ‘fit in’. Endia Beale essentially asks which box her subjects fit into when they present for interview (do they fit the corporate box or not?)

I am always aware of stereotyping and of the categories that society adopts in order to sort people into groups. This led me to think of the categories that I personally fit in to. I am a British female, middle aged, a wife, a manager, an employee, a sister, a twin, not a mother,  a student, a home owner, a graduate,  and so on.

This then led me to consider my own personal ‘boxes’ and how someone could gain an insight into my life and personality by knowing what categories make up my life. I do organise my life into metaphorical ‘boxes’ and I am happiest when these ‘boxes’ are full. So, I am happy when my ‘exercise box’ is full and I have been to the gym twice this week, and I am happy when my ‘family box’ is full and I have visited my relatives at the weekend and of course, my ‘study box’ is full when I am on target to reach my photography degree deadlines.

I thought that by representing all these categories, using everyday objects (rather like Nigel Shafran does in his washing up series) I could, through self absented portraiture, put myself in the picture.


How I developed idea six into the assignment

I prepared a list of the categories that make up much of my life. Here it is:

  • going to work
  • spending time with family and friends
  • practicing yoga
  • studying BA Photography
  • keeping fit
  • eating healthily
  • reading
  • keeping the house clean and tidy
  • socialising

I liked how Shafran uses the kitchen sink to articulate his daily life and I suspect people are generally interested to see another person’s domestic environment; that’s why reality programmes are so compelling. So, I thought I could use my own items to say something about myself.

I am aware that I separate these things out in my mind and I thought about those everyday items that could represent each section such as trainers, fruit, cleaning products, etc. and thought to display them in boxes to highlight their separateness in my mind. How full or empty each box is has an effect on my well being so I considered juxtaposing a full box with an empty one in each image. However, I felt that it would be confusing to a viewer and decided to approach each image with one box only.

Each box was filled with domestic items that act as symbols for the category being presented. I didn’t want the images to be obvious as I wanted a viewer to have to interpret the boxes. For this reason I rejected something so obvious as this for my ‘family’ box. I wanted to avoid incorporating  words as explanatory text.

I went on to  compile arrangements of objects and arranged them in boxes to represent sub sections of my daily living and I hope that by viewing them you can gain an insight into me and my life.


British Journal of Photography issue 7855 (January 2017)